By Matt Volz
Friday, October 3, 2008
ANCHORAGE, Oct. 2 -- An Alaska judge on Thursday refused to block a state investigation into whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power when she fired her public safety commissioner this summer.
Judge Peter A. Michalski threw out the lawsuit filed by five Republican state legislators who said the investigation had been tainted by partisan politics and was being manipulated to damage Palin (R) just before the Nov. 4 presidential election.
"It is legitimately within the scope of the legislature's investigatory power to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the termination [of] a public officer the legislature had previously confirmed," the judge wrote.
The investigation is looking into whether Palin, who is the Republican vice presidential candidate, and others pressured Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to fire a state trooper who was involved in a contentious divorce from Palin's sister, and then fired Monegan when he wouldn't dismiss the trooper. Palin says Monegan was ousted over budget disagreements.
The five GOP lawmakers had argued that the legislative body that ordered the probe exceeded its authority. Their attorney, Kevin Clarkson, said the political bias was demonstrated by the plan of the legislature's independent investigator to issue a report by Oct. 10 although the full legislature won't consider it until January.
But Michalski said in his ruling that the mere appearance of impropriety does not mean any individual's right to fairness was violated.
The independent investigator, Stephen Branchflower, still plans to end the probe and report his findings by Oct. 10, said Democratic state Sen. Hollis French, the investigation's project manager. Branchflower's report will not include the testimony of Palin's husband, Todd, and several top aides who refused to appear under subpoena.
In the ruling, released minutes before Palin and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. faced off in a debate in St. Louis, Michalski agreed with defense attorney Peter Maassen, who argued that the legislature has the authority to investigate the governor as it sees fit.
"He agreed with us on pretty much everything," Maassen said of the judge's ruling. "The separation of power principles that governed this case seemed pretty clear."